The Solas and Advent: Sola Scriptura
Saint Luke 4:16-22
As we are still in the 500th year of the Reformation, and as there are 3 Midweek Advent services, I thought it might be worthwhile to consider Advent in light of the Three Solas of the Reformation: Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, and Sola Fides. What is meant by these Reformation principles is that you have salvation by Scripture alone, grace alone, and faith alone. All three of these truths had come to be denied by the Church before the Reformation, and in doing so, what has come to be regarded by some as the 4th Sola was also denied, namely, that it is by Christ alone that you are saved. We won’t be adding a 4th service to deal with the sola of Christ alone, for this truth is at the heart of each of the other three. It’s why we Lutherans say that there are only 3 solas; all of God’s Word is about Christ; all of God’s grace is centered in Jesus; and all of the faith that you are given to have is in your Saviour alone.
Now, as Advent is all about the coming of our Lord Jesus to be your Saviour, to redeem you from sin and death and deliver you to life and everlasting salvation, we turn in this first midweek service to the place that Holy Scripture plays in His Advent for you. Therefore, attend once more, dear friends to tonight’s reading from Saint Luke’s Gospel in which we are told of an event thirty years after His birth in Bethlehem, when Jesus “came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom,” the Gospel writer says, “he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down.” With the reading concluded, it was time now for Jesus to begin His sermon. “And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them,” meaning, He began His sermon with the words, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Saint Luke doesn’t record in his Gospel account the sermon that our Lord preaches, that is, not in its fullness, just this opening statement, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” These words, however, tell us that what Christ preaches about is Himself—not in a vainglorious way, as we hear from certain false prophets today, but in a way to bring hope and gladness to those who have ears to hear this glorious Gospel truth. You see, the words that our Lord Jesus chooses to read from the prophet Isaiah are a foretelling of His coming. Isaiah is saying that what God has called him to do is to preach Christ—preach the one who is promised of old—promised from the very beginning, when God told fallen Adam and his wife that an offspring of Eve would come to crush the serpent’s head and deliver them and all mankind from the evil that sin had unleashed. Jesus tells the Nazarene congregation that this promised one is seated right there before them.
The poor spoken of by Isaiah, that is, those robbed of everything good and holy—those robbed of life and salvation by sin—are given, in Christ’s coming, the good news that what was taken from them is theirs again, for Jesus has come to restore all that God made and declared to be good. Those made blind to the truth of God’s love by sin and unbelief are given to see again, for in Christ they behold the Father’s grace. In His Son’s atoning sacrifice on Calvary’s cross, they see the love that God has for the whole world—they see His desire that no one perish, but that all are saved and have eternal life. And those oppressed by the cruel captivity of the devil, locked in the chains of unbelief, are set at liberty, for the word of Christ is truth that has the power to set sinners free. In the coming of Jesus, the “year of the Lord’s favor,” most certainly is upon us all.
Saint Luke tells us that, at the end of Christ’s preaching in the synagogue of Nazareth, “all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’” From this, it would appear that the word of Christ’s preaching goes over well with the people. But Jesus doesn’t see it this way, for He sees what is in their hearts; He sees that they’re only making nice with Him because they want Him to do for them what they’ve heard He has done for the people of Capernaum. They want Jesus to do great and miraculous healings and drive out tormenting demons. They want Jesus to be for the good of their earthly lives only. What a sad thing! Saint Paul writes to the church in Corinth, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
When Jesus confronts His former neighbours with the truth of their sin, they’re filled with wrath against Him and try to take Him and throw Him over a cliff. Of course, He doesn’t let them. That’s not the plan. That’s not the way the Word of God has said Jesus would bring salvation to the world. His is to be the way of the cross, not the cliff. And so, as Saint Luke records, Jesus passed through their midst and “he went away.”
Sola Scriptura. By the Word alone do we have the knowledge of salvation given to us. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ,” Saint Paul tells us. There is no other way. The Bible tells us who Jesus is, why He was sent by the Father to be born of the Virgin Mary. The Bible tells us what our hope in Christ is all about. The Bible tells us that the fullness of the Father’s love is given to us in Christ, and in Him we have our life and salvation. Look for the truth elsewhere, to places other than Sacred Scripture—look to popes and councils, the wisdom of the age—look within yourself, and you will not have a Jesus who saves; you will not have a heavenly Father who loves and cares for you; you will not have a Holy Spirit who breathes life and gives faith. Sola Scriptura. It’s only through the Word of God alone that you have the truth that sets you free from sin, death, and the devil and gives you forgiveness in Christ unto life everlasting.
As you near Bethlehem this Advent season, and the stable at the inn, and you look upon the holy Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, see in that manger the one declared by Scripture to be the Word made flesh, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour and Redeemer. Martin Luther said that the Bible is “the cradle wherein Christ is laid.” Plug your ears to the false things that the world has to say, hear only the Word of the Lord, trust only in the grace of God, and believe in Christ alone. Amen.